Saturday, February 28, 2009

Quintessentially Chicago

This morning was a rude surprise. I agreed to help a friend out as a pace group leader in a 10 mile training program so I dressed in my winter running gear and went out to run with a group of other crazy people. It was 25 degrees and cloudy with a wind chill of sub-frigid at the lakefront. We only ran 4 miles this morning and it took me 1 1/2 miles to get my blood pumping hard enough to feel my fingers. Next Saturday is officially in the month of March so let us hope that those March warmup trends take effect.

The clouds went away sometime in the middle of the day and the sun was a spirit raiser at least. Looking out the windows on the 14th floor the ice on the lake has done something very odd today. It appears as if there are millions of little white corpuscles within the concrete barrier across the way. Maybe they're icepuscles, the vital defense system of Lake Michigan. Who knows? Anyway the slanting afternoon sunlight is yielding shadows of the high rises along Lake Shore Drive. Tis a lovely sight.

Babs and I are tired of the stay in because it's really cold out and are considering a trip to the Saloon a couple of blocks away for steaks. We're not usually big carnivore types, but occasionally a person just needs the traditional big hunk of meat for dinner. In Chicago there a few things that I can think of that are quintessentially part of the real Chicago experience and a good steak is one of them.

Having deep dish pizza is a real Chicago experience. It is true that you can get it almost anywhere these days, but it was invented here for goodness sakes. We have more varieties of deep dish than a dog has fleas. If you want the real experience, go to Unos. They invented it after all. Wanta be a tourist. Wait 30-40 minutes with drinks so you can experience this. It's worth it.

Going to Second City is another of the gotta do it, for the Chicago experience places to go. There is improv based theater in a great many cities these days, but it was Second City that put improv on the map. It was Second City alumni that put Saturday Night Live on the TV map. As I recall from doing classes and children's shows there, the place smells like stale beer, but it's all a part of the ambience. It's the home of the best comedy theater anywhere, period. It's real Chicago.

When it comes to sports, there are the Bears at Soldier Field (Many locals will tell you it's Soldiers Field, plural). The tickets are God awful expensive and hard to get. There are the Bulls, and I went to see Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen when they played here in the Threepeat years. The Blackhawks? I'm sorry. I grew up in the South and games played on ice skates I just don't get. If I wanted Canadian games I'd move to Montreal. The Chicago White Sox? Please. The real deal in baseball, no matter where you come from is experienced at Wrigley Field. This is Chicago sports. The intimacy of the stadium, the ivy on the walls, the bleacher bums, the people on the roofs across the street from the stadium watching the game. This is an experience only to be had in Chicago. No domes. No jumbotrons. Just baseball.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the July 3rd fireworks at Grant Park. If you're not from Chicago, your probable reaction to the last statement is "Don't you mean July 4th?" As a matter of fact I don't. In Chicago there is a tradition. On July 3rd the Grant Park symphony plays endless Souza and other assorted American composers and then when the sun goes down, the band strikes up The 1812 Overture and the fireworks go off over the lake, perfectly timed so that when the orchestra goes boom the fireworks go boom. Over a million people converge on the park for the experience. Leaving and going home can be a chore, but it's part of the real Chicago experience. Oh, and what about July 4th? The park is given over on that day to famous rock bands who give free concerts. Ho hum. Just another day in the city.

Anyway, this little tour of quintessentially Chicago experiences started with steaks. There are any number of steak houses in the city of Chicago. A lot of them are very good, but then so are steak houses in any number of cities all across America. What's so Chicago about the steak experience? I have to remind you that this is the city of Ditka and Butkus, and a lot of real down to earth hard-working folks of many sorts. This is "The City That Works." Chicago is a large city with a population measured in the millions, and we have all that that brings. You can get fusion cuisine, Italian cuisine (Northern and Southern), French cuisine, Thai, Chinese, Mexican, Middle Eastern, and Sushi. One of my faves is Ron of Japan. I like to think that someone will one day put in a restaurant next door called Bob of Korea. When you examine the character of the city, though, a kick ass steak joint is what sums up the character of the place.

Sometimes you just have to have a steak. Think I'll celebrate the city that I live in and have one tonight. Have a great Saturday.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Reform the Neighborhoods

Alas, there seems to be a recurrence of winter in Streeterville today. It's 25 degrees with light snow at the Mini. It's days like this that encourage one to make sure there is plenty of good red wine in the house so as to make it nice to stay in. The lake is churning and the waves are breaking over the concrete barrier. It's easy to be content on the inside of the floor to ceiling windows on the 14th floor this afternoon. The gray and cold can stay out there. It's nice and comfy in here.

Three days ago the Chicago Sun-Times ran an op-ed that was titled, "Murder of three teens must spur CPS reform." Being a CPS employee, that title immediately made me bristle. I know the incident being referred to. It did not happen in a school, so how was CPS somehow being held responsible? It seems as though there are an awful lot of headlines in the newspapers these days lamenting the large number of CPS students being shot. It is true that there are a lot of CPS students being shot, but the fact is that they are not being shot at school. They are being shot in the neighborhoods where they live, after school hours. A lot of very young people are dying. Of course they are CPS students. It is state law that they go to school until the age of 17.

As I read the op-ed in question, it turned out that the Sun-Times was advocating programs in schools that address the social and emotional needs of kids who live in the worst neighborhoods and endure endless gang violence. It was advocating that schools work with kids to learn how to get along and solve problems without resorting to confrontation and violence. That in and of itself is great, but the public needs to realize that this will require money, training, and personnel. Counselors in high needs schools are stretched thin. Teachers already have way too many tasks to address in addition to teaching their regular curriculum and they already recognize the need to do some serious socialization for these kids, a great many of whom do not get what they need at home, who turn to gangs for security and guidance.

The schools say bring it on. Just give us the resources to properly do the job. Don't give us an unfunded mandate, that is impossible to follow through on because of lack of resources, manpower, and appropriate training. The schools also say, "Quit printing inflammatory headlines that suggest the schools are somehow to blame for the violence in the streets. The violence is socialized into the kids in their homes and in their neighborhoods where they live. The schools are safe zones."

Every time a headline is published that links murder and violence with students who are part of the CPS, it further cements the idea in the mind of the public that the CPS is somehow to blame. I have worked in high needs schools on the South Side of Chicago for the last 15 years and I have never in all that time seen a single incidence of a student being shot, stabbed or involved in anything beyond a fist fight inside a school building. I'd like to remind people that teenagers, with their hormones pumping away, come into conflict and get into fist fights. This happens everywhere. I, personally, went to a suburban high school and it happened there as well.

I just want to counterbalance this perception that the schools are somehow responsible for the violence and they are all run amuck in rampant violence. We in the schools would love to do something to counteract the bad homelife, the bad street life, the miserable existences many of our students experience outside of school. We, as educators, are there because we care. We resent becoming the whipping boy for something society either cannot or will not deal with, and therefore, shifts the blame to us.

Often bad schools and bad teachers get the blame for students who don't meet standards. Having spent the last 15 years in high needs schools and examined the problems closely, I can tell you that the same social problems that result in the early deaths of our students from gun violence form a disruptive factor in the lives of our students that prevents learning. They don't bring the guns and violence into the school, but they do bring anti-social behaviors that disrupt their own learning processes, and that of those students around them.

Give us the job of socializing and reforming behaviors as well as that of educating students so they can go on to post-secondary education and get jobs and become functional citizens. Give us the resources to do that as well. Just don't continue pointing your fingers at us and blaming us for the violence in the streets while you do nothing but point those fingers and shake your heads.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Caught in the Rain and No Umbrella

It's a very London-like afternoon in Streeterville, 45 degrees and periods of intermitten fog and rain. Funny that I think of London when the weather is like this. It could just be that the weather patterns are changing and the long slow warmup is beginning. Winter isn't over yet, but the below zero stuff is. It may snow overnight tonight when the temperature drops.

The thing is I could think of a lot of things that this could be like, but in my mind it's London. Maybe it's tied to the reason that I own a London Fog overcoat as well, who knows? It could be like my childhood in Arkansas. Typical winter days there tended to hover between 35 and 45 degrees and it rained a lot. Do I think of that? Nope! That weather played hell with my sinuses as a child. I constantly had a runny nose. The doctor had me on nose drops that ran down the back of my throat and they tasted bloody awful. See, there's that London thing coming through again.

I understand that it's like this a lot in the Pacific Northwest. The problem is I have no real memories of that area of the country. I know enough about Seattle to make it up, but it wouldn't be real. Truthfully, the only time I've ever been to Seattle was once when I had a 3 hour layover there when I was flying from Narita, Japan to Minneapolis. The view from the airport was lovely. I could see Mt. Something or other with its white ice cap in the distance. It just doesn't do it for me to compare 45 and foggy and rainy here to that.

I could compare it to San Francisco. I saw a Sam Spade film noir movie that was set in San Francisco and Bogie was walking in the fog. It set quite the tone. My memories of San Francisco, however, involve riding the cable cars, going to Chinatown on Christmas day, eating breakfast in a Jewish Deli on that same Christmas day, and marveling at people ice skating in 65 degree weather with palm trees in the background. Not working for the appropriate analogy here.

Now I did go to New Zealand during our summer which is their winter once. The North Island was one wet place. Can you say rainforest? I bet you can. Very much like the Pacific Northwest so I hear, but with trees that look like oversized ferns and people driving on the left side of the road and guys selling big bags full of kiwis for $2.00 in New Zealand money which is like $1.10 or maybe $1.25 U.S. They sound like Aussies. Couldn't tell the difference. It did rain a lot, but there were these volcanic black sand beaches and people heating their homes with geothermal. Can you say stinky, smelly sulphur water? Needless to say, that's not doing the job for me as metaphor today. Nice people those kiwis, but way too many sheep and hiking people for me.

Nope it's definitely London, beautiful city really. I've walked through Hyde Park and seen Kensington Palace and the black swans in the pond in the park and accidentally stumbled on Herrods Knightsbridge. It's just another friggin department store. It's often foggy and rainy there, though, and cool, not frigid. Comes from living on an island surrounded by lots and lots of water at a high latitude, but with the Gulf Stream rolling by. I remember getting caught in the rain and thinking of buying an umbrella there. There was a whole store dedicated to nothing but umbrellas, or bumbershoots as some might say. Trouble was I was young and on a budget and those were the most godawful expensive umbrellas I'd ever seen in my life. Did without, thank you very much.

As I recall, I also got caught in the rain in Paris on that trip. Early September in Europe, it must rain a lot. Went into a little shop on the Boulevard something or maybe it was the Rue de La Something, but they had umbrellas, parapluies for the Francophones. Now I had 2 years of high school French and 14 semester hours of college French and in about 1970 I was wired for sound with the French stuff. When I actually went to France many, many annees later, I was scared shitless to mouth a single word of French. I depended on Babs to communicate. I walked into that shop, looked in the glass case and pointed to the one I wanted and blurted out, "Je voudrais le paraplui noir pour soixante et quinze francs." The clerk looked at me disgustedly and corrected my French, "Ce n'est pas soixante et quinze. C'est soixante quinze." Inside my head I was thinking, "Hey, I tried asshole. Just give me the fucking umbrella and I'll be out of here." As it happens, everyone in Paris corrects your French. Do we do that to foreigners who are struggling with the language here? NO! We just swipe their Visa cards and smile. Paris doesn't cut the mustard. Still London in my book.

Anyway, when I arrived home in Streeterville this afternoon it was so foggy I couldn't see Lake Michigan across the street. I went to the gym and worked out and when I came back out onto Michigan Ave. it was pouring rain. I didn't bring the umbrella. Just like in London. Just like in Paris. Had a car in New Zealand when it rained. In my head Streeterville and the Gold Coast in the fog and rain at 45 degrees is most like London. Makes me think of those old Werewolf of London movies. Lots of creepy fog. Pouring rain. Then Warren Zevon creeps into my head, "AAAAAAOOOOOO! Werewolves of London! AAAAAOOOO!" Well that's the feeling this afternoon. I walked home with the collar of my coat turned up and my hat dripping rain from the brim. "Better stay away from him. He'll rip your lungs out Jim. AAAAOOOOO!"

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Minneapolis Story

It's a perfectly lovely day in Streeterville, 58 degrees under sunny skies at the Mini. It has been so perfect in fact that I elected to go outside for a run along the lakefront. What I discovered was that even though the ice is attempting, doing its level best to melt, there is a lot of it to melt. There are lots of chunks of ice floating around in Lake Michigan yet and piles of ice at points on the running path. Nevertheless 58 degrees is an exceedingly pleasant temperature to run in.

Today is a very special day in Rex and Babs lore. It is the last Wednesday in February and exactly 24 years ago today Rex and Babs met at an establishment, known as Williams Peanut Bar in Minneapolis. It was 2 for 1 Old Style Beer night. That being said, I'd like to tell you all a litte story, a Minneapolis Story.

Minneapolis Story

It was the day before payday and Rex was PDB (pretty damned broke). There were bills that he had just paid and he was looking at the prospect of paying for the repairs on his car. The Pontiac Aster station wagon was in the shop, getting tuned up, getting the oil changed, getting that door fixed that wouldn't stay shut and tended to swing open every time he turned a corner. Rex had been home reading books for what seemed like the entire last decade and frankly he was a little bit tired of the whole thing. He had a cheap stereo that was one of those all in one, radio, turntable, casette tape things with really cheap speakers, and about 5 or 6 albums to his name. His roommate had a TV that picked up exactly 4 channels (on a good night).

It was time to venture out of the house, so Rex checked his wallet and what he saw there was pretty slim. He wondered for a moment how he could parlay this small stash of money into a night out and then he remembered, "Two for one Old Styles at Williams Peanut Bar on Wednesday nights." He also remembered that he knew a female bartender who worked there who would sometimes cash a check for him. What the hell. Tomorrow was payday and by the time the check ran through, the money would be in the bank. The car being in the shop, he walked the two and a half blocks to Lake Street and caught the bus to Uptown.

Rex got off the bus at Hennepin and walked a half block to Williams Pub, went around the side of the building and went downstairs to the Peanut Bar. It was one of those places that give away really salty peanuts to encourage patrons to drink more beer and the patrons throw the peanut shells on the floor. Crunch, crunch, crunch. Rex usually didn't like going into The Peanut Bar because lots of U of Minnesota students tended to hang out there and he, being in his early 30's felt like someone's father or uncle or something. This was extenuating circumstance.

The bar was pretty busy so Rex took a stool at the end of the bar, next to the door, and ordered an Old Style, a 2 for 1 Old Style, a 2 for 1 for a grand total of $1.00 Old Style. Two beers for a buck. Now that's a deal. Of course it was 1985 and there has been a bit of inflation, but it was still a deal.

Rex sat, minding his own business with his Old Styles and peanuts and soaking up the atmosphere when he noticed two young guys in their early 20's walking in. They walked past him, around the corner of the bar and continued on down the length of the bar, circled back and came to rest at the end of the bar on his left. They ordered, you guessed it, Old Styles.

After a moment one of the lads looked at Rex and began talking. What he said was, "Women in this bar are just stuck up man. Nobody will talk to you.....blah, blah, blah." It was not more than 2 minutes after this exchange that a young woman in her early 20's came walking over, sat down on the stool to Rex's right and immediately announced, "You look interesting. I think I'll talk to you." Rex and Babs had met. The lad on Rex's left, well his jaw dropped open noticeably and incredulity filled the air in that little corner of the bar.

As it turns out Babs and her friend Penny had been at Happy Hour at a Mexican restaurant consuming margaritas galore when Penny remembered that a bartender she thought was cute was on this particular Wednesday at The Peanut Bar. Penny seemed to be spending all of her time with said bartender, so Babs was a little bored and went looking for some conversation of her own.

Let me tell you about Babs at this point in time. Babs had had a bad run of luck with men and had come to a decision about them. For one thing she definitely was not going to sleep with any guy the first time she met him. Standards you know. Secondly, any guy she got involved with had to meet 3 criteria. 1. He had to have a job. 2. He could not live with his mother. 3. He had to have a car. Standards you know.

Rex and Babs seemed to hit it off admirably. They talked all night long and consumed copious amounts of Old Style. They talked and talked about this that and the other and Babs began to check off her list. He has a job. Check. His family lives hundreds of miles away in another state, so he definitely does not live with his mother. Check. Then came last call. The lights came up and Rex realized he had missed the last Lake Street bus. He also realized that maybe he should be following up with this girl. He asked her if he could get a ride home. He added that his car was in the shop.

Babs did not wonder aloud, but she wondered to herself, "Oh shit, does he really have a car? Can I fudge that one little criterium?" She gave Rex a ride home. When they arrived at Rex's house, Rex asked if Babs wanted to come in. Babs gave him a good night kiss, but she did not go in. She had standards. She gave Rex her telephone number and drove off into the night thinking to herself that she would definitely never hear from this guy again.

The very next day was payday. Rex called. That weekend Rex got his car out of the shop. Rex and Babs began spending every spare moment together. That June they got an apartment together. That December they moved to Chicago together. The rest is 24 years of history, together. Perhaps one day I'll tell the story of how Babs came to Rex's apartment to pick him up shortly after meeting to discover that his roommate was a woman. Hey she was a friend, a non-sleeping together friend. Well, another time.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Clutter in the Attic, and Cleaning It Out

It's a lovely day in Streeterville as seen from the 14th floor, if you like really big slurpees, that is. The entire lake has turned to slush and is sloshing around in a thick manner that reminds one of nothing so much as a slurpee, sans flavoring, unless you like lake trout flavored slurpees. Ooooohhh! It's 27 degrees and sunny at the Mini. Still no word on the wind chill factor. At any rate, it's still winter and don't you forget it.

March is a mere week away and the office secretary at the Outpost is getting ready to remove the snowmen and put up the shamrocks and leprechauns. School secretaries are amazing people really. They have decorations for every occasion, and quite often cookies and candy for said occasions. This one, Mary we'll call her, is a true Southside Irish lady with a cop for husband and all, so she really gets into her Irish traditions. She listens to loud Van Morrison a lot. Not so big on the more current Irish rockers like U2. More of an oldies gal. We went to different schools together.

For people like Mary there is a certain security in traditions and it just seems wrong not to observe them, in the same way you've observed them for the last umpteen years. All of us have our places we go for security really. Linus has his blanket. Others have their own version.

My cat, Sammie (aka Sammie from Miami), likes to play with those little plastic rings that are around a carton of milk and that come off when you open up the milk. He also is terribly fond of a little red stuffed animal of some sort that he bats around and bites and tosses. Sammie, when he's tired, likes to sleep on my bed. Much like Linus taking his blanket everywhere with him, he takes his little milk carton ring and his little red stuffed animal up on the bed with him. He feels safe and warm and secure. This brings us to that other issue. When he feels like he's going to puke, (Cats do that a lot.) he jumps up on that big safe,secure bed with his toys and lets it out there. Ick!

Babs is under a lot of stress right now. She has a book deadline that is imminent and the book must be finished. When feeling stressed and beyond big hugs from the male of the family, she has her security blanket too. It involves a hot bath, a glass of red wine, and a New Yorker Magazine. It never fails to make her feel a little bit better, a little bit more secure in her existence, in her relationship with the world.

For myself, I am not so much a long hot bath kind of person. I tend to think of that as a female pastime. Girls like those things, along with good smelling candles and bath salts and bubbles and stuff. I am more prone to feeling more at peace with the world when I'm in my jeans and a comfy shirt, not in the dressup, gotta work or go to a function kind of mode. When I'm feeling really at odds with the world, the jeans and a sweatshirt, a glass of red wine, and a Cubs game serve as my security blanket. They put me at peace with the world. So what happens when baseball isn't in season? There are other options, usually revolving around stupid television, Tour de France in early summer, Wimbledon in mid-summer, sometimes a little guitar and songwriting, sometimes a run by the lake. These things are routine and put things in order with the world for me.

Everyone seems to have something. Some people meditate. Some people sing. My father in law works with his hands, carving things, putting together elaborate models. He used to build grandfather clocks, and really nice wooden furniture. My mother in law, well she can't sit still, and sometimes I think her meditation is rearranging furniture and making new curtains. Everyone needs something.

That brings me to a guy I know. It seems the guy is really tied to his work and has never had a hobby to speak of aside from reading science fiction. When he retired he had no clue what to do with himself and he had no meditation, no security blanket, and his wife, I suspect was starting to drive him up a wall. He'd never spent that much time in his life with her even though they had been married for something in excess of 40 years. He took a new job and went back to work. In this case, I guess his security blanket is his job, also his identity. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but for me, I like having a life beyond my work. My work, c'est ne pas moi.

Now if you'll excuse me, I must go see a guy about a running program and quaff a couple of wines with him.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Cabin Fever

At the risk of becoming redundant, I say again, "Enough is enough." The view from the 14th floor is somewhat obscured just now by the snow coming down. As per the National Weather Service, it is 28 degrees in Streeterville. No news from the Mini since I haven't driven anywhere today. I like snow as much as the next guy, okay? It's just that by the end of February one can get mighty tired of it. I'm ready for that trip to Miami in a little over a month.

Babs had a business trip to L.A. this week and came back last night talking about 75 degree temperatures and palm trees swaying in the breeze. Is not torture prohibited by the Geneva Conventions? Forget what went on at Abu Ghraib. Forget what went on at Guantanamo Bay. This is the real deal. Waterboarding? Hah! People talking about palm trees and warm, soft breezes while the Arctic winds are blowing and snow is blowing sideways past my floor to ceiling windows and bringing visibility down to about 5 feet, now that's torture friends.

Hyperbole? Hyperbole you say! Perhaps I exaggerate a wee bit. It is true that I can see more than 5 feet. I can see the shores of Lake Michigan on the other side of Lake Shore Drive. I cannot see Navy Pier or the concrete barrier before the deep water. This is hot toddies by the fireplace weather. It decidedly is not gin and tonics by the pool weather. I am sick of the weather. I am sick of the cold. I am sick of my winter wardrobe.

I grew up in the South and people there ask me how I survive up North with all of that cold weather. Of course people up North ask me how I survived down South with all of that hot, humid weather. Everybody adapts to their own environment and can't imagine how people can exist any other way. Tell it to the Inuit. Tell it to the Bedouins in the desert. Tell it to the tribes of the jungles in Papua New Guinea. Tell it to those crazy off the grid types in the wilderness of Northern Idaho. On second thought, don't tell them, they'll just shoot at you.

Anyway, the thing is, I've been thinking about how I adapted to living in the North. It wasn't hard really. What it takes is coats (plural), sweaters (mucho plural), assorted articles of fleece clothing (plural), hats (plural), including hats with flaps, gloves (plural), boots (plural), scarves (plural), and one good ear covering device for those hats that don't have flaps. That's just the everyday stuff. There are the specialty items also, special clothes for running outside in the winter, winter sports gear of assorted types such as snow shoes and ice skates. Don't own any skis. Have to rent those if I engage in that activity.

Then don't forget about those adaptations that make everyday life manageable. I've found that a car with front wheel drive or all wheel drive fares much better in the snow and ice than traditional rear wheel drive vehicles. While it certainly isn't a necessity, I've found heated seats to be a real comfort as well on those days that your car has sat outside in the parking lot at work all day. Of course you have to have a good scraper for your windshield and windows on your car and one of those brushes to brush the snow off your car that has accumulated since last you drove it.

When I used to live in Andersonville, before I moved to Streeterville, when I lived in a hundred year old house, before I lived on the 14th floor, there were other tools of winter survival I needed. There was a good snow shovel or two, to clear away the sidewalk, both in front of the house and down the side of the house. I lived on the corner. Steps and porch often had to be shoveled as well. The parking spot in front of the house where I parked my Toyota Celica GT convertible had to shoveled out. I also had to have a big car cover for the GT so the rag top wouldn't get trashed by the snow and ice. Had to put that on every time I parked it. Had to take it off every time I drove to work. Some people used snow blowers for the sidewalks. I cleared snow the old fashioned way, by the sweat of my brow. It was good exercise and it didn't pollute the environment.

Of course here in Streeterville, life is a little simpler. There are maintenance guys from the building to clear the snow from the sidewalks and entrances and exits to the garage. The garage is below the building in the basement and sub-basement and are quite warm, so I don't have to clear the snow and ice off the car or sit in it while it warms up as it's already warm. The garage attendant parks it for me and has it ready for me when I go to work in the morning. Oh and the doorman keeps the Jehovah's Witnesses away. Can't complain about that. How bourgeois!

The point is that in December and early January it is easy to embrace the snow and cold. It's unique. It's a bit fun. You can indulge in cold weather rituals. However, by the end of February, it has ceased being any fun and you're wayyyy ready for it to end and for the big warmup to commence. You're tired of donning all of those clothes just to walk 3 blocks to the gym or the grocery store. Hats and gloves and scarves and sweaters and boots every time you walk out the door. You're tired of scraping your windows on your car. You're tired of having to heat your seats in your car. You're tired of meals by a cozy fire. You're tired of wind chills. You're tired as all get out of your winter wardrobe. You begin to long for the simpler attire of warmer climes and warmer times. How nice would it be to suddenly be able to exit in a pair of shorts, a t-shirt, and a pair of flip-flops. Underwear is optional. Nobody will know.

That's the state of affairs on the 14th floor this afternoon. It's gray and snowy and cold and decidedly crappy outside. Did I mention the slush in the street? Think Miami. Think Miami. Think Miami........

Friday, February 20, 2009

TGIF Edition, Actors and Wrestlers

It was actually a fairly pleasant day in Streeterville, and at the outpost in Back of the Yards. Sunny and clear, 32 degrees at the Mini this afternoon. The Ryan Expressway was a piece of cake. The lake was a bit calmer than in previous days. Then they told me. It's supposed to start snowing tonight and last into tomorrow. 6-8 inches they say. OK, enough is enough. I'm ready for shorts and t-shirts. I'm ready for going to the beach weather. Winter's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there. If I did, I would've stayed in Minnesota, maybe moved to Alaska. Nope. Nix that. Couldn't take a state that elects some nimrod like Sarah Palin as the Governor.

Come to think of it, that might rule out California as well. They not only elected Ronald Reagan as Governor, but Arnold Schwarzenegger. Oh and, My God, that rules out Minnesota categorically too. They elected a friggin professional wrestler as Governor (Remember Jesse, The Body, Ventura? Governor of Minnesota.). Hey, Iowa sent Gopher from The Love Boat to Congress. I'm withholding judgement on the fact that Al Franken of Saturday Night Live fame is in all likelihood going to be a U.S. Senator from Minnesota. He actually seems to have some sense, despite being an actor and writer.

Who are these people out there who are electing actors and wrestlers to run their governments? Is it only a matter of time until Mickey Rourke becomes the darling of one of our national parties? Man, he hits all the right buttons. He's an actor and he's played a wrestler in a movie. He also tried his hand at boxing professionally. Not sure that quite worked out for him. Politics must be the next stop, unless he does something dumb like winning an Oscar and jumpstarting his acting career again.

That being said, Thank God I live in a sane state where we have perfectly normal corrupt politicians who serve time in office and then serve time in a federal penitentiary for assorted briberies, tax evasions, etc. Hey, we produced the current President of the U.S., and he's a Harvard Law grad and pretty much squeaky clean. That is not to say that some of those he has nominated to his cabinet who withdrew are all squeaky clean. Why can't rich, powerful people just pay their damned taxes like the rest of us? Oh wait. I did that rant already....yesterday. Well you get the point, though.

I was thinking that it was a good thing the whole country doesn't go for goofball actors and wrestlers and such, but then I remembered that the U.S. elected Ronald Reagan as President. Not just once mind you, but twice. How could an entire country be that damned stupid? He created the largest national debt in history (At that point. It took GW Bush to top that one. Another Republican.) while cutting taxes and gutting government oversight of business and building up the military to unheard of proportions(Once again, it took GW Bush to top that.). He also claimed that ketchup is a vegetable and that trees are some of the largest polluters. (GW Bush just denied global warming exists and that evolution exists, or that science really exists, I guess. When I was growing up, we had a word for guys like GW Bush. It was dumbass. And he ran the country for two terms...into the ground. Makes the country kind of look like a bunch of dumbasses, for electing him twice.)

I guess I'm just trying to get my head around this thing that allows an entire country to elect celebrities, actors and wrestlers and such, rather than people who are actually trained and educated to handle governance. Apparently, an awful lot of people are susceptible to advertising campaigns, and ad campaigns are the babies of celebrity. People, for some reason, are drawn to people they've seen on TV or in the movies, whether they have any sense or not. If they can create a sound bite that sounds good (if you don't examine it too closely), the electorate will elect the SOB.

Then there is also a distinct anti-intellectual bias in the country. Respect for intelligence? "Nope. Rather elect someone I could sit down and have a beer with and talk good common sense. We all know that intellectuals got no common sense whatsoever. I heard that Einstein couldn't even tie his own shoes..." Where does that come from? I know a lot of smart people, and on the whole they are more competent in all areas, as a result of their smarts. They make smarter decisions. Some can even tie their shoes several different ways. They could run our government in a smarter fashion, and some smart people actually look good on camera. Go figure.

Of course we could just elect Mickey Rourke President and continue bashing the French. I hear French people revere intellectuals.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Suckers or Visionaries?

This morning was a shocker here in Streeterville. Suddenly winter returned with a revenge. The snow once more covered the ground. The big winter waves were crashing on the shore and over the running path. I got into the car and began my morning commute and though it was sunny under blue skies, it was 14 degrees at the Mini. Then my classroom was cold when I got to the outpost. I let the kids wear coats in the classroom until later in the day when it warmed up. I suppose I was just a hopeless Pollyanna, a real sucker, thinking that it would continue to stay warmer until Spring arrived with no more serious winter.

I found myself wondering about Roland Burris today, Senator Roland Burris of Illinois. First there was the flap about him accepting the nomination to the Senate from former Governor Blagojevich (Rod the Mod) when no one else would and he making a racial issue out of it. There was Mr. Burris saying he had never discussed money with Rod the Mod. Then someone lets it out that he is on tape talking to Rod the Mod's brother about fundraising. Then he swore that was the only time and he told him he couldn't raise money for Rod because it would look like something illegal. Then someone let it out that he had talked to Rod the Mod's people several times and maybe talked about fundraising. Now Burris is claiming that the press is making something out of nothing and he is entirely innocent of any wrongdoing.

Let's see, "I've done nothing illegal or wrong." Where have I heard that before? Hmmm, Rod Blagojevich, Richard Nixon, former Governor George Ryan of Illinois (now in federal prison), former Congressman Dan Rostenkowsky of Illinois who I believe has finished his prison term at this point, Alderperson Arenda Troutman of Chicago who was just sentenced to 4 years in prison..... I understand that 4 Illinois Governors have been sentenced to prison since 1951. One more was acquitted of income tax evasion. Rod the Mod will make it 5 Illinois Governors since 1951, if he is convicted.

All of this is just in the state of Illinois. If we were to take a look at other states, the list would become staggeringly long. I understand that Sarah Palin is being forced to repay the state of Alaska for expenses she billed the state while staying at her own home instead of the Governor's Mansion in the state capital. How many people has President Obama nominated for cabinet positions who, as it turns out, have income tax problems, or suspicious campaign donation problems? This is just on the government side. The business community is hardly better or more honest and upstanding.

As David Byrne asked, "How did I get here?" Come to think of it he also said, "My God! What have I done?" For the great majority of us in America, those of us who are not of the political or business elite, we have not done anything wrong. The question is "How did the country get here?" and "My God! What have they done now?" Most of us pay our taxes faithfully. Most of us scrupulously avoid embezzlement, bribery, Ponzi schemes, and various and assorted white collar crime that will get you a slap on the wrist and a couple of years at a minimum security prison. Most of us don't count our net worth in the millions and millions of dollars.

I guess what I wonder is "Are we all being played for suckers?" Are all of us who play by the rules just poor saps who are doomed to continue being pawns in the big kids' games? How did the country, and for that matter, advanced industrial societies of the world get to this point, that the big players are so uniformly amoral and corrupt. Does making money or getting power corrupt us? Would you and I become the same way if we were allowed into the corridors of power? I'd like to believe not. Perhaps that's why no one has ever asked me into the corridors of power.

I'd like to believe that there are still some rich and powerful persons out there who do play by the rules, who do still honestly care about the rest of the world and what happens to our planet. I'd like to believe that there are some of the influential who actually pay their friggin taxes. Unfortunately, that number is pretty small. The entire system is rotten to the core and it is going to take a radical paradigm shift to change how business as usual operates. That will take time and effort. I hope this is what those linked to President Obama are attempting to pull off.

Then again, is it just as P.T. Barnum said, "A sucker is born every minute." And those of us who think that honesty and fair play are possible are just shining examples of those suckers, waiting to be fleeced by the next guy with a good line and an entertaining show.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Big Town, Small Town, In Between Town

It's a dismal afternoon in Streeterville. it's 35 degrees and snowing lightly as per the National Weather Service and as per the view from the 14th floor windows. Thank God for red wine. Babs is gone on a business excursion to sunny Southern California while I feed the cats and give one a pill. What did I say the other day about routines? Well, forget it for now. I'm on to something else, and with Babs gone my normal routines are out the door. Hey let's eat dinner at 5 PM and pretend we're 80 year olds at IHOP in Ocala, Florida.

Babs and I had visitors over the 3 day weekend. Once long ago we existed in a land far away, known as Minneapolis. Then we migrated one December day in the middle of a snowstorm and somehow became rooted in Chicago. We still have some friends there and stay in contact, for the most part. In many years that means a card at Christmas and maybe a phone call. Some years we stop in for dinner while in Minneapolis. Some years they stop in for dinner when they are in Chicago. My how the kids have grown! There's, not ours. We have cats. Much easier to deal with, and no college tuition to worry about.

Well to make a short story long, these Minneapolitan, Scandinavian friends of ours, hmmmm....we'll call them, no not Sven and Lena, how about Candace and Ron, arrived in Chicago for a three day weekend with 2 sets of friends and all of said friends' children. They did the Munch exhibit. (Remember that Munch painting, "The Scream?") The teenaged kids said Mr. Munch was a wee bit depressing in his art. They did an obligatory Second City show. Generally regarded as witty and entertaining. Then they all came to the 14th floor for cocktails and obligatory oohs and ahhs, while viewing Lake Michigan, Navy Pier, etc., and a brief explanation of who exactly Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was.

After cocktails, oohing and ahhing and catching up on details of life that had escaped friends new and old over the last 20 some odd years, it was time to take care of that time honored tradition, going out for genuine Chicago Deep Dish Pizza. Out of towners are often partial to Geno's East Pizzeria. Chicagoans have a deep-seated disdain for places that draw too many tourists and herd you through as do such places. Babs suggested that we try Pizzeria Uno since it was the actual birthplace of deep dish pizza. Now that's a slice of history. (so to speak) Uno said there would be a 30-45 minute wait after arriving. Forget that stuff.

We went to Lou Malnati's. The out of towners were wowed that we never actually go to Lou Malnati's for pizza. We have it delivered. Some folks are easily amused. We had a good meal. Everyone was pleased and oohed and ahhed at the signed jerseys of various sports illuminati on the walls. That's not what I really intended to talk about though. I've somehow managed to go on and on for 4 or 5 paragraphs and I'm just now getting to the point. Babs thinks I could be a bit more succinct. Well, maybe.

Anyway, being the education professional, and everyone else in the room but Babs and I being parents, or children, the topic somehow turned to education. Go figure. We talked about current trends in education sweeping the nation, small schools concepts, IB and AP programs in every high school. Don't get me started. I did my diplomatic best, and then one of the Minneapolitans asked me where I worked.

I explained that I worked in a career academy on the Southside in a neighborhood best known for poverty and gang shootings. Said Minneapolitan then told me that she had a friend who worked for a high school in Chicago and had told her absolutely awful stories about the goings on in that school. I was intrigued. "Oh really," I said, "Where does your friend work?" Then she said, "Walter Payton High School." I had to work diligently to avoid bursting into laughter. I told her, "Walter Payton is a selective enrollment, college preparatory high school. None of the students who go there test at less than the 90th percentile." Was I exaggerating? Maybe a little. Not much.

The Minneapolitan grew defensive. I had to be conciliatory. I said, "Well sometimes even the best students can be a problem. They're teenagers after all." She went off on a tangent about how children of poverty aren't socialized as we are, blah, blah, blah. The woman had no clue. A great many teachers in CPS would give an arm and a leg to get a job in a sweet school like Walter Payton. I found myself wondering if it were a case of the woman from the Great White North had never worked with African-American students in large numbers before and was having a bit of a crisis as a result.

I grew up in a town of about 20,000 people that was basically a suburban area, located on a freeway. I have lived in cities of 150,000-250,000. I have lived in cities of the medium range of 500,000-700,000. I have lived for 20 years in the 3rd largest city in the United States and I have spent enough time in the largest city in the United States to know what it is about, more or less. People have very different perceptions of reality, based on the size of their city, based on the ethnic makeup of that city, based on personal experience. I hate to be an urban snob, but for goodness sakes people, there are restaurant experiences you pay for and those that are good. There are experiences that are genuinely scary and those that are just different from what you are accustomed to.

Babs and I have been around the planet, literally. We have seen the best and the worst that the world, not just the U.S. or a particular state has to offer. It is my considered opinion, however, that a great deal of the world, and not just Minneapolitans, could stand to be exposed to life outside their special little bubble. It eliminates a lot of prejudice. Not everyone is just like us and that's okay. It frankly makes life a lot more interesting.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Routines and Other Monday Musings

It's a lovely President's Day in Streeterville. The National Weather Service tells me that it's 34 degrees outside and the lake temperature is 36 degrees. The Mini doesn't do lake water temperatures. In spite of the chilly temperatures outside I know that it is Spring or at least Spring is coming soon. Pitchers and catchers reported for Spring Training last week. Robins, a harbinger of Spring? Heck no, the Cubbies honing their baseball skills, that's the true sign of Spring. Hope springs eternal in Spring. Right now, this is the year. Forget the bad memories of last October.

Anyway, the view from the 14th floor is a bit fogged up, as it sometimes gets when I do the laundry. The moisture coming out of the dryer tends to do that. Speaking of the dryer, it just buzzed at me, telling me that the current load, "C'est finis." Back in a moment. Must tend to the mundanities that make life move onward.

I am back, as promised. Hardly missed me, did you? I have routines, as most people do, I suspect. Babs sometimes accuses me of being obsessive/compulsive, a regular Monk (You know, the guy played by Tony Shaloub on USA.) Perhaps I am a bit too regular at times about my routines, but routines provide structure in a chaotic life. Routines are a bit of a security blanket at times, a comfort, something you can count on.

In my life, when I have to think about so many things, routines give me guidance through periods of time when I don't have to think about things. I can just do, unconsciously, and move onward. I get up when the alarm goes off. I make the coffee. I clean the kitty litter box. I shower. I shave. I dress. I have pretty much the same breakfast day in, day out, except for Sundays. On Sundays Babs and I have waffles or pancakes and read the newspaper front to back, often while listening to classical music. OK, so that's a routine too. Like I said, comforting.

On Saturdays, I work out in the morning. Babs and I go out for breakfast. I take in the week's dry cleaning and pick up the fresh. I go to the grocery store. We clean the house. Sundays are for laundry. No clean underwear on Monday, otherwise. Sunday afternoons are for running long distances and burning calories to offset the excess calories I consumed all weekend. Mondays I work on new songs so I can be ready to show them off in my songwriting class on Tuesday.

With all the structure and routine, you might wonder when I ever do anything that's a break with routine. Hmmm. I can pencil that in for Saturday, and work my housecleaning in on Sunday. Maybe go to the grocery store on Monday after work and miss a day of blogging, since I always do that when I get home from work, right after I go downstairs and pick up the mail.

By the way, I find myself doing the laundry on a Monday, because for one thing it's a holiday, and for another, we had unexpected visitors from Minneapolis yesterday and Babs only let me do one load of laundry, so the windows wouldn't be fogged up when the guests arrived. Had to do one load, though, so I'd have clean underwear today. Makes me wonder if I shouldn't go out and buy an extra pair or two of underwear so I can make it a bit longer than a week, if necessary. That would provide me with a break from routine.

The big break from routine will come in the first week of April when Babs and I are taking a trip to Miami. Of course, that too is a sort of routine. We take a Spring Break trip every year when I'm off work from school. We have found that we like South Beach and go there semi-regularly. We have tried several hotels and we've found that we like the Raleigh. Oh my God! It's a routine trip to Miami to stay at the Raleigh. I have been told, though, that Mojitos are no longer a part of the routine. They are passe. Caipirinas are now the routine drink of the fashionable drinking set.

I realize now that my life is one big set of routines and I am, to a great degree, really predictable. Somehow, I fail to get worried about that. I like my routines. I have chosen them because they represent who I am. Now if you'll excuse me. I think I can find time to go for a run and still squeeze in the songwriting work before Happy Hour and subsequent dinner and the usual Monday night lineup on TV and bedtime and getting up for work tomorrow and........

Saturday, February 14, 2009

St. Valentine Lost His Head

It's turning out to be a pretty decent day on the 14th floor. The sun is peeking through the clouds and the dusting of snow is melting. Runners are running. Bikers are biking. Off in the distance to the east, the sun is giving the lake that aqua color that it gets often in the summer. The National Weather Service tells us that it is currently 32.2 degrees in Streeterville. Haven't been out in the Mini today.

I have been out, however. I had a really nasty head cold earlier in the week. Babs has it now. I went out for muffins and scones for breakfast earlier. I took the dry cleaning to the Korean lady and picked up the newly laundered and cleaned clothes. It's a little bit blustery and okay, I admit it, February like out there. The sun raises your spirits, though.

Today is Valentine's Day and it brings with it all of that baggage about letting the one you love know how you feel and often creates depression in those who are not in a relationship. I read somewhere that the Romans had a pagan holiday celebrating love and such on February 15. When the Empire became Christianized the Christians started dismantling the old pagan holidays and the pagans became annoyed that all of their holidays were disappearing. February 14 was the anniversary of the day St. Valentine was beheaded, during the old persecution of Christians days, so it became a replacement for the old pagan festival one day later. Easter with its egg and bunny rabbit symbols and Christmas with its Germanic trees and remarkable proximity to the Winter Solstice, well they have their own stories.

At any rate I have been thinking a lot about aging recently and Valentine's Day brings on the thought process even further. Babs says she still finds me attractive, and that's important, but hey she's lived with me for over 20 years and the day to day experience does not lend itself to careful observation of incremental change. I appreciate the sentiment, however, and I reciprocate. I do feel, though, that she looks a lot more like the hot self she was 20 years ago than I do. Ah the female form. Sigh.

I was looking in the mirror earlier this week while tying my tie before going to work. Funny, I still feel young. I don't feel dotty. I don't feel decrepit. I can still run a marathon. I still feel creative. The guy I saw in the mirror, though, looked a lot more like my grandfather than the guy with the brown hair that turned gold in the summer sun of twenty years ago.

It's funny. Twenty years ago when I was still dabbling in theater, I could walk into a room and young women would smile. Now I walk into a room and young women still smile, only now it's because I remind them of their father or grandfather. Ah Dorian Gray, where is that picture when you need it? Fountain of Youth, wherefore art thou?

Age catches up with all of us. There's no magical way around it. It's just dealing with it that becomes difficult. It never occurs to you when you're 25 or 30 that one day you'll wake up and look in the mirror and see all of those lines in your face. It never occurs to you that winter in your 20s is not all that bad or that when you're in your 50s and all of the last trace of summer color has gone from your face, the gray and white hair on top of your head accent the lack of color in your face and you look somehow less healthy, pallid and old.

It's then that you realize that the person you've spent the last 20 something years with really loves and cares about you. They know you for the person you really are, were, and someday will be. It's all just a part of the continuum of self, everchanging, never static. They could care less about the old fart in the mirror. It's then that you realize how much you care for that other person, despite any gray creeping into the hair, and you realize that care means that at age 80 you'll still be telling her, "You still look as lovely as the day I met you."

The thing is, when Babs looks in the mirror, I haven't a clue what she sees. When I look at her, I see a woman who I've lived with since 1985, and all of what those 23, almost 24 years mean, and that's beautiful to me. I'm not talking about inner beauty here either. Maybe love does something to your eyeballs. I still think Babs is as hot, in a grownup way as she was when I met her, maybe moreso. I just hope she feels the same way about the old fart I see in the mirror.

Happy Valentine's Day Babs. And for the rest of you out there, the lesson here is that love keeps you young inwardly, if not outwardly. It keeps the object of your love young forever. It somehow transcends aging and as Babs told me when I complained about the old fart in the mirror, "Well don't look in the mirror." Not sure that's a solution, but it works for now. I'm feeling young enough to kiss that beautiful girl I love and go run 5 or 6 miles.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Americana, Part II

Welcome to a very special Lincoln's Birthday edition of Views. "Happy birthday Abey baby. Happy birthday to you-oo-oo-oo-oo...." 25 browny points to anyone who can tell me where that quote came from. It's "a bright, bright sunshiny day..." (Only 5 browny points for that one. Way too easy.) on the 14th floor and 36 degrees at the Mini.

I had to take the Mini to the mechanic for a 50,000 mile inspection/tuneup this morning. I dropped it off at 8 AM and was told that it would be ready about 4 or 5 this afternoon. Had to take the El home and it was rush hour. The Brown Line wasn't too bad. I managed to score a seat on that train, but the Red Line was stuffed to capacity, reminding me of those stories about the Tokyo Subways and people on the platforms whose sole jobs are to stuff more people in the door of the train. Anyway, I didn't get a seat, but did manage to get a spot to stand where I could at least hang on to something.

Rush hour on the El is interesting. There are all these people jam-packed into the train car, elbow to elbow and no one acknowledges anyone else, except fleetingly when they actually bump or jostle the other. In the seats, people read books, highlight stuff for work or school, and the standers in the aisles appear to be reading newspapers. With the effort of standing while the train moves, I suspect the ability of most to concentrate on reading anything diligently. I did notice that a great many were reading Red Eye, where all the articles are no longer than a paragraph or two. Maybe that they can read. I don't even try to read a paper or book while standing. Holding on and trying to stand, while holding the paper or book in a place where I can read it without elbowing the person standing next to me is just too much. I find myself reading the ads above the windows and perusing the map of the El line, which I've perused a thousand times before and know by heart. People watching is great, but you have to master the art of watching people without actually staring at them, so they don't think you're some creep.

When I got off the train with a herd of other people, all busily going there way to meet their busy, busy days, I got caught up in the hustle and bustle. When most got on the escalator up to street level, I took the stairs and amazed the youngsters by bounding up the stairs faster than they could escalate on the escalator. Old dudes rock! The good thing was, I wasn't going to work like most of them. I was going home on a sunny day, to coffee, a granola bar, and my computer. That's not what I intended to talk about, though.

When last I was here, Babs, Marie the Belgian teenager, and I were happily ensconced in the old Subaru Legacy that I once owned, and cruising down Route 66. Babs and I were in the front. Marie was in the back with her camera out and taking pictures of the scenery as it slid by. We arrived in New Mexico pretty quickly after leaving Amarillo and the Cadillac Ranch. The license plates say, "Land of Enchantment," but from what I've seen of New Mexico, it's more like "Land of sand and rocks and cacti and scrubby little trees." Oh at the higher altitudes in the mountains there are bigger trees, but a lot of New Mexico is what we call desert.

We arrived in Santa Fe and did the appropriately touristy stuff. We went into artsy little shops specializing in Native American Crafts (Marie had to have a Dream Catcher.). We went to the Native American art museum. We ate in restaurants specializing in Southwestern cuisine. Lo and behold, there were real live Indians wandering around downtown. We drove up to Taos and did more touristy stuff. We stopped at a pueblo north of Santa Fe, aka Indian Reservation. We went to see Anasazi ruins at a National Park and climbed up the side of the cliff to see into the rooms up the cliff a ways. Well Babs didn't. She has a thing about heights. We'll go into the story about driving to Yosemite another time, or maybe not.

Before heading back to Chicago, we decided to drive up to Durango, Colorado to spend a night and to go to the big Anasazi ruins at Mesa Verde, very near there. We drove over a lot of 14,000 foot tall mountains and finally got to Durango on a 65 degree sunny afternoon. We ate dinner that night at a restaurant and bar that was made to look like an old time Western Saloon, just like in the movies. Real live American kitsch, that was.

The next morning we awoke, prepared to drive out to Mesa Verde and the charmed portion of our little excursion across America had suddenly come to an end. It was cold and it was snowing....hard. We toyed with the idea of going out to Mesa Verde anyway, before leaving, but when we got on the highway we soon realized that it was snowing so hard that we'd better get the hell out or we would be stuck in Durango for a while. A few days? A week? Who knew?

There were several options for leaving Durango, all of them over 14,000 foot high mountain passes. The one we chose, in order to be headed in the right direction, was Wolf Creek Pass. At the base of the mountain was a big sign that was flashing "Chains only!" We pulled off to the side of the highway for discussion. We opted to turn around and go back to the last town we went through to buy some chains. When we got to said town I pulled into the lot at a convenience store and went in to ask where we could buy some chains. The woman inside took a look at the Subaru (All Wheel Drive) in the lot and listened to my accent and said, "Where are you from?" I replied, "Chicago," and she grinned, shook her head, and told me "Oh go on honey. Those signs are for all of the tourists from Texas. They can't drive for shit in the snow. You're from Chicago and you have a Subaru with All Wheel Drive. You know what you're doing. You'll be fine. Heck I drive my little front wheel drive Nissan over that pass all the time."

A couple of minutes later, I was back in the Subaru and on the road. At the base of the mountain I fell in behind a snow plow that was going up the mountain. Pretty soon there was a whole line of 15-20 assorted cars and trucks following that snow plow up the mountain at about 15-20 miles per hour. It wasn't long before we started seeing cars and trucks that hadn't made it up the mountain and were off the side of the road in the ditch, in little ravines, jackknifed semis, etc. Marie was a whiter shade of pale. She was creating semi-permanent finger prints where she gripped the seat. The snow kept coming down.

At the top of the pass the snow plow slowed down...and turned around. Oh crap! No more snow plow leading the way. I was at the head of the line and everyone was following me. Marie's finger indents were getting deeper. Babs was creating her own. I was doing my best to create my own indents in the steering wheel while "Leader of the Pack" ran through my head, interspersed with thoughts of "Oh shit! Oh shit!" It was snowing so hard I couldn't see 5 car lengths ahead of me. I must have driven not one mph faster than 10 all the way down that mountain, but I made it. I stopped at a convenience store at the bottom of the mountain. It was sunny and 65 degrees there. The caked on ice and snow was dripping from the Subaru. The lady in the store took a look at the car, and said somewhat incredulously "Did you just come over the pass?" I just nodded "Yup," at her. Then she said, "I just heard on the radio that they closed the pass. It's impossible to get over it." Well not impossible, but highly unlikely. I did it and led a pack of 15-20 cars with me. The "Not the Donner Party, Party."

That night in a hotel somewhere in Western Kansas (Slogan: We've got cows. Lots and lots of cows.) I turned on the news and the weather was on. The weatherman was saying, "The main East-West highway has been closed at Wolf Creek Pass. Snow fall at Wolf Creek Pass has been measured at 3 feet currently. I honestly don't remember the actual amount of snow he said, but it was something ridiculously large. When we got home to Chicago, I was watching the news and the weather guy in Chicago was saying, "Apparently a place in Colorado called Wolf Creek Pass has received 4 feet of snow over the last couple of days." Again, I don't remember the exact amount, but it was ridiculous.

Marie got to see a lot of America. She saw kitsch. She saw stretches of Oklahoma so remote that she wondered aloud, "What do people here do?" She saw Indians. She saw an Indian Reservation in Oklahoma so large that they had their own license plates (Not in Oklahoma anymore. Now entering the Shawnee Nation or some other tribal group. Can't remember which) Oh, and she saw a snowstorm that will stick in her memory for life. I believe the indentations from her fingers were still in the seat when I sold that Subaru.

Happy Lincoln's Birthday. He's 200 today, and I hear he doesn't look a day over 180. This post has been brought to you by Cursory Cleaning Services, "For your busy lifestyles when you don't have time clean your very best." Formerly, Close Enough For Government Work Cleaning.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Americana 101

It's been 24 hours since last I was here and 24 hours can be a long time in the land of viral infections. My nose has finally stopped trying to run away. The eyes have ceased weeping. Perhaps I am not totally healed, considering I came home from work and laid down to read for a moment and awoke an hour later. Still a bit tired and in need of rest. A friend asked me, at work today, if I had taken any time off for the illness. Hey, why waste good sick days on actually being sick when you can use them for cool stuff, like Cubs games when it gets warm, right?

I was driving back to Streeterville from work and it was 41 degrees and rainy, with 10-15 mile per hour winds. This is what I like to think of as Arkansas winter. As a child, I remember my childhood in January and February as one of absolute misery. It was always 35-45 degrees and raining. This played hell with my sinuses and I had a runny nose for many years before I realized upon moving north that "Hey! When it's colder outside and snowing, instead of raining, my sinus condition improves." Of course it really improved during the two years that I taught school on a tropical island. There are drawbacks to living on an island where it's 85-88 degrees every day of the year, but sinus conditions are not one of them.

When I got back to the 14th floor, the view was decidedly not of the Arkansas Winter type, however. The wind was kicking up large waves that were crashing over the concrete barrier and over the shoreline onto the running/biking path. One never sees that on the Arkansas River.

A few years back Babs and I took in a foreign exchange student from Belgium for a year, Marie-Laure, just Marie to us. Marie, for some reason, became attached to the phrase, "The sea is angry today." She used that expression often when Lake Michigan was acting up. Well the sea is really angry today, something of a serious snit, if you will.

During the year that Babs and I had a teenage daughter, we tried to enrich her life through various truly American experiences. As I recall, watching Southpark on the Comedy Channel was a truly unique American experience. Apparently they don't have crude juvenile humor disguised as satire in Belgium. Marie really loved the Southpark movie and that stellar moment when everyone shouted "Blame the Canadians!" We all need someone to blame right now. Of course for a great many of the loyal left in America it has come to be, "Blame W, the dumb @#^&*!"

The truly American experience occurred, though, during Spring Break. Marie wanted to see Indians. Babs and I concocted a road trip via Route 66 (much of which no longer exists) to New Mexico. We were going to see some Indians alright and a lot of America on the way. It's amazing how Europeans have no idea how big the U.S.A. is. Driving to New Mexico from Chicago takes 2 or 3 days, depending on how fast you drive and how many stops you make. There is a lot of America on the way.

On the first day out we stopped in Collinsville, Illinois. We wanted to see the water tower shaped like a giant ketchup bottle. Drove around for a while and couldn't find it. Moved on. Did see the Gateway Arch in St. Louis on the way through. Somewhere in Missouri, west of St. Louis and East of Kansas City we stopped at some cheesy caverns. Went on a guided tour through the caverns and saw where Jesse James and his gang supposedly hid out and escaped, etc., etc., etc. Americana of the first tier.

We spent one night in a hotel in Amarillo, Texas which is a veritable fountain of Americana. We went for dinner to The Big Texan Restaurant. While waiting for a table to open up you can peruse the gift shop and buy rattle snake stuff or assorted Big Texan paraphernalia, orrrrr see actual live rattlesnakes and stuff. Inside the restaurant there is a big stage with one table and chair on it and a big clock for all to see. The thing is, if you order The Big Texan steak (It's really big.) with all the trimmings and can eat the whole thing within an hour, it's free. You have to sit on the stage so everyone in the restaurant can see you, while the timer runs. It's a big production. The little girl from Belgium thought this was just too too cool.

The next morning on the way out of town we stopped off at a local piece of history and art, "The Cadillac Ranch." Most of you have probably seen photos of it. In actuality, you have to stop off the side of the Interstate and park on the side of the road, so you can walk across a cow pasture (Watch out for the cow chips. Some are still steaming.) to see a bunch of old Cadillacs, big fins and all stuck in the dirt on end and graffiti painted to beat the band. First class Americana.

End of Part I. Tomorrow: Santa Fe and Taos, Real Indians, Anasazi ruins, Mesa Verde, and one heckuva snow storm. This post has been brought to you by Cursory Cleaning Services. "When you're willing to settle for less than the very best." Formerly, Single Guys Cleaning Services.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Hygiene and Other Clean Greetings

It's sunny and 64 degrees at the Mini currently. Wind chill makes it feel like, oh I don't know...about 58. The little February warmup has melted all the ice in the lake, but I have no doubt that the water is still pretty icy. All the snow is gone except those dirty little black piles of ice that are leftovers from shoveling or snow plowing. "All the trees are brown, the trees are brown...." You know that one, except the sky isn't gray. It's bright blue and the temperature suggests outdoor activities.

The sad part is that I cannot participate just now. Working with teenagers in a public school, and their hygiene habits, I have managed to come down with my first cold of the season. You know what I mean, runny nose that won't stop no matter what kind of drugs you take ("Nose running? Better go catch it."), sneezing, occasional coughing, red nose, weepy eyes. Oh yeah. Couldn't happen when it was -5 degrees outside. Nope, when it turns nice.

I gave extra credit to students earlier this year who brought in boxes of tissue for the class to use during cold and flu season. Lots of takers. Kids want to pass with the least amount of effort. One kid tried to pass off a roll of toilet paper, stolen from the boys bathroom for the extra credit. I didn't bite on that one. At any rate, with the nose running non-stop and with that of several students also doing the same, my classroom has been through 2 full boxes of tissue this week alone and the reserve is tapped out. Remember that roll of toilet paper. That's on the desk and being meted out currently. Declasse? Probably. Useful? Without a doubt.

Speaking of hygiene, did I tell you about my sixth grade spelling bee? Probably not. It seems that in sixth grade I beat everyone in Mr. Ford's class soundly and was put up against Linda Sidwell from Mrs. Kaiser's class. Linda Sidwell was unanimously considered to be the smartest person in Warren-Dupree Elementary School, if not the entire Pulaski County Special School District. She was indeed a very bright girl. Her father, "Doc Sidwell," not for his MD, but for his PhD in chemistry worked at a local chemical plant, that rumor has it, made Agent Orange for use in Vietnam. Yes, that Agent Orange.

Anyway, Linda Sidwell, the unanimously accepted smartest person at Warren-Dupree Elementary School, probably even smarter than all the teachers, and even the Principal, was taken to a room with myself and two teachers and we were asked to spell for them. Smart as she was, she couldn't spell for shit. I whomped her. The teachers were so taken aback that they let the two of us go an extra two rounds to see if it was just a random anomaly. I won both rounds. I whomped Linda Sidwell, the smartest person in all of Warren-Dupree Elementary School and I whomped her bad (or badly, as the case may be.) Several years later the two of us were thrust together to go the Senior Prom, since both of us were Honor Graduates (Nerds) and neither had a date. That, however, is a story I prefer not to tell.

Well anyway as the newly crowned spelling champion of Warren-Dupree Elementary School I got to represent said school in the Pulaski County Special School District Spelling Bee. I had roughly a month to prepare. My mother was very proud of me and took me out to buy me some new dressup clothes, so I didn't look like a ragamuffin next to the other nerds, in their sartorial spelling splendor. My teacher, Mr. Ford, was very proud of me. He was concerned that I do well, since the District Spelling Bee included kids up to the eighth grade and while I was a pretty darned good speller, I was but a sixth grader. He provided me with an eighth grade spelling book to study. I was, for the most part, very proud of me as well. I got a big head, as big as the Montana sky. I believe at the time Merriam-Webster had my picture included next to the word egomania.

I never studied. I thought I could take on any and all comers. After all, I had beaten Linda Sidwell, the unanimously accepted smartest person in Warren-Dupree Elementary School. What could go wrong?

The fateful Saturday morning arrived and I put on my new District Spelling Bee clothes. Why do you have to dress up to spell for people? I can spell no matter how I'm dressed. I can spell in the nude if I have to. At any rate, my mother took me to the school where the District Spelling Bee was being held, and lo and behold I had butterflies in my stomach. I signed in. They checked me off as being the legitimate representative of Warren-Dupree Elementary School. My mom had to sit in the audience. I was shown a seat in a long row of about 25 other kids.

When the contest began, they started at the beginning of that long row of kids and went sequentially down the row. One or two kids got hard words and were out of the contest early, but for the most part everyone was getting pretty reasonable words and spelling them correctly and smiling for the moms and dads and teachers and assorted geeks and nerds. Then it was my turn.

All eyes turned to me, and then it happened. The person running the Spelling Bee said, "Your word is hygiene." I thought for a minute that seemed like an hour, and I realized then that I should have studied. Hygiene sounds simple, but I had never seen it in print in my life and all I could do was spell it how it sounds. I looked the guy straight in the eye and said, "H-Y-G-I-N-E," and I was gone in the very first round.

I don't remember what my mother said to me that day, but I do remember my encounter with Mr. Ford, my teacher, on Monday. I brought Mr. Ford his eighth grade spelling book and handed it to him quietly. He looked at me with a puzzled expression and said, "I went to the Spelling Bee and I didn't see you. Were you there?" He seemed a little annoyed. I turned beet red from embarassment and quietly replied, "Yes sir. I was there. I missed the first word they gave me." Mr. Ford just shook his head.

I suppose the question is, "Did I learn my lesson about being cocky and egotistical?" I've thought about that a lot in my life, and unequivocally I can say, "Not a chance."

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Saturday Afternoon Rambling

Happy Saturday. Make the most of it. This just in from the remote Views weather station in Andersonville. Our correspondent in Andersonville reports that it's 55 degrees at the Volvo. He also reports a burning desire to get out the deck chairs. I conversely have begun to wonder why there is no al fresco dining in February in Chicago. While it is true that in September or October 55 degrees seems a wee bit chilly for sitting outside and sipping wine and partaking of hors d'oeuvres, in February it seems positively balmy and might be just what the doctor ordered. The Reverend R.D. reports that the contributions are rolling in, so don't be the last one on your block to contribute to the South Beach Mission Fund of the Church of There Ain't No God But There's Sure As Hell Morality. (See yesterday's post, "Everyone Has to Believe in Something. I Believe I'll Have Another.")

Ordinarily Saturdays in winter are reserved for running errands and doing basic household chores. Today is so nice outside that I find myself looking for excuses to do something outdoors. Screw the laundry. Screw sweeping and Swiffering the floors. Forget about vacuuming rugs and the sofa. I need to walk down to Treasure Island to pick up four or five items, while sauntering slowly down the Inner Drive. To those of you not from Chicago, The Inner Drive refers to Inner Lake Shore Drive, as opposed to the Outer Drive, which has no sidewalk and is more like a controlled access freeway. My own personal inner drive is permanently set on saunter, or at least Babs seems to think so.

Even the self-possessed and driven to finish her book by deadline Babs, is feeling the pressure this afternoon to go outside, to relish the sunny warmth and get a little Vitamin D. It is Vitamin D that you get from hanging out in the sun, isn't it? This is not to be confused with melanoma, which I hear you also get from hanging out in the sun. Oddly enough I was reading a piece that I stumbled across online a couple of days ago and I discovered that in addition to increased incidence of flatulence, spider veins are one of those markers of aging. It seems that spider veins have a variety of causes. Apparently your personal genetics and inherited traits can lead to them, but....Insert trumpet blare here...excess exposure to the sun can be a contributor as well. Break out the SPF 64 and put on your long sleeves and hats when you venture to the beach for some warm sun, can get rid of them by laser treatments. These, however, are expensive and, rumor has it, painful. Live with it people, or make scads of money, get laser treatments, a tummy and tushy tuck, some liposuction, a facelift, a boob job (unless you're a guy, and if it trips your trigger guys, you can go ahead with the boob job too.), and to top it off some Botox. Got that kind of cash? So why aren't you driving that Ferrari you know you lust for? Think a Ferrari is gauche? Give it to me. You can live through me vicariously.

I'm not quite certain what the point of this aimless ramble was originally, but I do know that I intend to keep it short today. I have serious business to tend to on this sunny afternoon, and it involves a leisurely stroll and lunch somewhere besides my 14th floor perch overlooking a rapidly melting lake. "Hey Babs! Are you ready for lunch yet? I'm starving."

Friday, February 6, 2009

Everyone Has to Believe in Something. I Believe I'll Have Another.

It's a magnificent afternoon in Streeterville. I'd like to welcome you to a very special TGIF, it's 40 degrees outside and it's going to be 50 tomorrow edition of Views. Melt snow melt! Perhaps I'm a bit fickle at times. It seems like only yesterday that I was bemoaning the lack of snow and thus lack of a real winter. Now it's "Snow begone! I'm fed up with you and ready for spring." Well tough tennis shoes ladies and gentlemen. Even the hardiest of us can get a little cabin fever now and again.

I was just reading in the newspaper that in London an atheist group rented sign space on some buses and put up signs that something like, "There is probably no God, so go on and enjoy life." Now, a week or so later a Christian group is buying sign space on the buses and promoting God. Ah, freedom of speech in a civilized society. No riots. None of that, "I'm going to kill you because you're a heretic," stuff. Let's just air our differences via the free market. Nothing like it. Freedom of speech. Capitalism. The only thing missing in the previous scenario is the profit motive.

Oh by the way, did I mention that I have a new church. It's the Church of There Ain't No God, But There's Sure as Hell Morality. Meets on Saturday nights for communion at wine bars. It's out there combatting the religious right's conviction that lack of a god is either immoral or amoral or maybe both. It has a mission: To save all of those poor children in South Beach who need the communion of the righteously atheistic moral bringers. They call me Reverend R.D. All the COTANGBTSAHM needs is the cash to carry out this mission. As I understand it the South Beach contingent communes with mojitos and they can get expensive.

To reach the poor lost children of South Beach one must also be able to relate to them on a sartorial plane. That means nice clothes ladies and gentlemen, sinners one and all. The Reverend R.D. is partial to Italian designers. He finds that they send the right message when reaching out to the non-believers.

Now the Reverend R.D. also needs to send the right message when he is seen driving down Ocean Drive in South Beach. The potential converts don't need to think this is some poverty stricken, half-assed mission. No sir. They need to know that the Reverend R.D. is one first rate missionary and is bringing the message that the good life is right here on Earth. That requires a Porsche Boxter at the minimum.

If the Reverend R.D. is going to be spending all of that time in South Beach converting the non-believers and bringing the salvation of "Salvation is here and now," to the denizens of South Beach, he will also be needing a place to stay. In order to keep his inner peace and outer vision the Reverend R.D. needs a 2 or 3 bedroom condo with an ocean view, a good workout center in the building, with a pool, and deeded parking.

"How can I help with this," you might ask yourself. All it takes is a simple contribution and the heretics and non-believers of South Beach can be on their way to salvation in the here and now. The Reverend R.D. accepts cash, credit cards, checks, and in kind offerings such as cars, First Class airplane tickets, and cases of 90 point plus Bordeaux. I know you can't believe what you're hearing, but it is true. With a simple contribution, you can become a part of the movement. Send all contributions to the Reverend R.D. at the Church of There Ain't No God But There's Sure As Hell Morality in Streeterville and the Reverend hopes to see you at communion this Saturday night. Hallelujah, it's your turn to buy a round.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Counter Culture

It's been a strange couple of days as seen from the 14th floor. I came home on Tuesday night at about 10:10 PM and looked out to view the lake and the wind was high, producing some serious waves that were crashing over the running and biking path. It froze pretty quick and was making mounds of ice along the concrete shoreline across the street. The next morning when I got up there were icy stalagmites along the edge of the concrete shoreline. It was bright and sunny here on the Streeterville side of the lake, but to the east I could see ominous dark clouds that told me that Michigan was getting socked seriously with lake effect snow.

That morning and the next, it was 9 degrees at the lakefront and 6 degrees at the outpost in Back of the Yards. Yesterday morning when I looked out at the lake the water within the barrier was frozen and solid. The water beyond the barrier was totally open water. This morning the water within the barrier was totally liquid and the deep water beyond was frozen over solid. Go figure. Some ice. Some water. Don't think I'll be swimming in any of it anytime soon.

This morning I hopped into the Mini and headed out for the outpost and, voila, it was 14 degrees. I thought to myself, "Self, it's probably going to be 25 by afternoon. Woo hoo! Here comes that big warmup we've heard so much about. Get out the shorts and t-shirts! Give me that SP-64 sunblock! Oh yeah!" Got home this afternoon and it was 28 degrees at the Mini. Still not a word on the wind chill factor.

I've been accused of having an odd sense of humor, of being incredibly cynical, of coming from somewhere in left field a lot in life. Sometimes I have great intervals between these accusations and I tend to forget for a while that I'm not really what Middle America thinks of as normal. Then the realization that I must have been dreaming smacks me squarely up the side of the head. Thank God! Frankly, normal people don't spend all the hours I do spilling my guts to the world on a blog and getting 5 people a day to actually read it. Normal people don't spend endless hours holding conversations on Facebook with a cupcake. Let's hear it for abnormal.

As David Byrne once said, "How did I get here? Letting the days go by...." Well frankly, I have views and a sense of humor formed, and heavily influenced, from a lifetime of functioning on the fringes of society in an area known as the counterculture. Sometimes in a large city it is possible to begin believing that you are normal, because large numbers of other outsiders surround you. Inevitably, though, you are slapped down, either figuratively or literally, and you are reminded once again, "Nope, not normal. Not even close."

So what does it mean to be a member of the counterculture? When I was younger, it was easy to spot. You wore your hair a certain way. You dressed a certain way. You had a certain coded language that you all used. You espoused a leftist viewpoint. You were an artist of some sort (in the larger sense, visual, musical, written, performing...) and most of your friends were also some sort of artist. You disdained the middle class, the rich, the stupid, the average, the ..... You disdained a lot. You listened to music that no one else did. Did I tell you the story about going to the Rainbow Bar and finding out that I had to pay a cover charge to see,...get this..., an all bass band. Truly transcendent. Managed to stay for one set and look at the art on the walls that a friend created and was trying to sell.

As a grownup, though, what does it mean to be a member of the counterculture? I still have those leftist views (Voted for Barack you know.), but I don't belong to the Democratic Socialists of America anymore. Grew out of that one just as surely as I grew out of my marijuana usage. As regards that, I woke up one day and looked in the bottom of my underwear drawer and realized that I'd had an ounce of marijuana in there for a year and hadn't even come close to finishing it. That was over 20 years ago now. Still have, at least the pretense of art. I have this blog. I write songs. I sing. I play guitar, albeit badly. I write poetry now and again. I've been married for 22 years to the same woman with no kids and we've traveled around the world. Babs is writing a book. Deadline in a little over a month. We still have oddball artsy friends. We know a lot of gay people and African Americans and people of all sorts of backgrounds from every place on the planet. Exchange emails and Facebook comments with a former exchange student/child for a year in Belgium. Interact with all of them openly. Explain that to your fundamentalist Southern family, or even middle of the road Midwestern family, for that matter. Just not normal.

It gets hard to distinguish the counterculture, though, just by looking at us as we get older. I pay my bills by teaching for the Chicago Public Schools. I own a suit and tie and even wear it on occasion. I've learned to like red wine better than beer. I've developed an affinity for South Beach instead of hiking and canoeing down the river. Don't smoke anything anymore, not reefer, not Marlboros. Have a condo on the 14th floor, overlooking Lake Michigan. Got a 37 inch flat screen Sharp Aquos TV. Got a steam shower and a Jacuzzi. I like running 10 mile races on Sunday mornings, meaning I don't hang out until 4 AM on Saturdays very often. Own a $1000 bicycle. Drive a Mini Cooper (Made by BMW). Oh and a guilty pleasure of mine that I didn't mention in a previous blog devoted to that topic, I like Italian clothes and Italian shoes. Can't really afford Italian cars, at least the ones I'm drawn to. Back in the day, when I had hair on the top of my head instead of coming out of my ears, I might have thought of someone like myself as a sellout. Not so. There's nothing wrong with being comfortable. There is something wrong with being a greedy asshole.

People age and they mellow. I had a lot of mellowing to do. After mellowing there is still a lot of edge to my views on life. I hold down a job and I am accepted within certain realms, but as mentioned before, when I try to overstep my boundaries, I get slapped down every time. "What do you think you're doing here?" A colleague at work once told me, "I heard that they hired this new history teacher, and I thought so what? The first time I saw you walking down the hall I thought, 'That guy does not look like a history teacher. He looks like he belongs blowing a saxophone in a smoky bar somewhere.'" I live part of my life in normalcy, but the real me still sticks out, not like a sore thumb, but like a proud flag, announcing who I am, who I really am, and it is not part of the normal American middle ground. It's from the fringes, and I'm damned proud of it and I'm damned proud of the rest of us who exist there.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Guilty Pleasures

It was a surprising day in Streeterville today. The weather guys, both in the newspaper and on TV said we were to get a bunch of lake effect snow and it was going to be mild. I prepared mentally for the snow and mild temps and lo and behold, I awoke this morning to clear blue skies and a beautiful view from the 14th floor. When I got into the Mini and drove to work, lo and behold it was 9 degrees at the lakefront and 6 degrees at the outpost in Back of the Yards. Apparently the running tally is, as of this moment, Groundhog-1, TV Weather Guy-0.

TV weather guys, newspaper weather guys, any kind of weather guys are just one of my guilty pleasures in life. Talk about the weather? I can do that ad nauseum, and Babs ribs me about it ad nauseum. RDR, Weather Geek. It's true.

Guilty pleasures? We all have them. Some people have perverse ones. Some people have oddball ones from left field. Some people just have a lot of them. Babs has chocolate and popcorn. I have a weather habit, and ..... and a couple of others.

Let me just say at this point, "Hey what's wrong with a little Wheel of Fortune every now and then. I've been watching the Wheel since the 80's when you had to spend the money you won on prizes, and if you had to little to buy something nice, you could spend it on a ceramic pig they always had. Can it be possible? Vanna looks better now than she did then. OK, cosmetic surgery may have helped a little, but anyway I get a guilty pleasure out of watching Wheel and solving the puzzles before the nimrods on the show do.

In the daytime I never watch TV, but sometimes in the afternoons there is Jeopardy. Answering those questions is a little more difficult than solving the Wheel puzzles, but I'm enough of a geek to be able to answer a goodly number of those as well. Another guilty pleasure. It's on at 3 PM Central Standard Time on ABC for anyone who's interested. I actually contacted the Jeopardy people to try out for the show once, but didn't make to the Chicago tryouts and was told to drop by whenever I'm in L.A. and I could test. Haven't been to L.A. in a long time. Jeopardy probably won't happen.

A lot of things can suffice as guilty pleasures in one's life. I totally suck at guitar, but I've been known to spend a lot of time at the Old Town School of Folk Music strumming, picking, and singing my little heart out. I like it. When I go on vacation, I really like going places where I can go on wine tours. Taste some wines, experience a nice climate, stay at a resort. Ahhh. So far I've done wine country in Napa, Australia, and New Zealand. At one time I thought of planning the next 10 years of my vacations by wine countries. Chile, South Africa, Argentina, France, Italy..... Hmmmm. Maybe I could parlay this interest into beer vacations too. England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands. Oh, I tried beer in France once. Forget it. French wine and cheese good. French beer bad. Did I mention? Beer, chips, pizza, wine. Guilty pleasures one and all.

OK so I seem to have a lot of guilty pleasures. The question is, "What purpose do these guilty pleasures serve?" Answer: "They make life tolerable. They make life worth living. That's what." Without one's guilty pleasures, one might as well become a monk, a hermit, a Puritan. The life of denial has never been one for me, and yet I'm still alive and healthy. I have learned to moderate my guilty pleasures over the years, and oh yeah, one of my guilty pleasures has become running long distances. Go figure.

Got to go for now. I have to get the guitar out and see if I can actually play a song I have conceptualized.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Some Bald White Guy

It has not been a bad Ground Hog Day in Streeterville, 29 degrees at the Mini under partly cloudy skies. There are rumors of snow overnight but a 40 something degree kind of warmup later in the week. It's February and that's a short month and that means that March is around the corner and that means that Spring is practically imminent. Too bad the groundhog said 6 more weeks of winter. This begs the issue, "Who is more accurate, Punxatawny Phil(Famed hibernating weather prognosticator) or Tom Skilling?(Famed WGN weather prognosticator)"

This brings to mind an exchange that I had with my mother at age 6. At some point I became really tired of winter and I asked my mother, "When can I go barefoot again?" She was busy and distracted and replied, "When Spring comes." Being the persistent sort I pressed onward, "When does Spring come?" Quick on her feet as always, Mom replied, "In March," and went back to those dutiful mother things she was always doing. Being dutiful myself, I shut myself up and didn't mention it again, until March 1. On March 1 it was in the neighborhood of 45-50 degrees outside, but I remembered my mother telling me clearly, "In March." Having a good memory and what I considered to be right on my side, I marched into the kitchen and said, "Mom, it's March. Can I go barefoot?" You can imagine the shock and disbelief. Those of you with children,....never wonder at the logic of a child.

Forgive the awkward segue, but I felt it necessary to tell that previous little story, just as I feel it necessary to tell the next one and they are totally unrelated and I can think of no seamless way to switch from one to the other. Maybe a little transition music? Whatever works for you.

I have mentioned before, in these pages, that I work for the Chicago Public Schools at an outpost in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. This school's student population is approximately 2/3 Mexican-American and 1/3 African-American. The Principal is African-American and as a result, the staff is heavily African-American. Before working at the outpost, I worked at another oupost, located at 77th and Ingleside on the Southside of Chicago. This school was 99.9% African-American, at least as students went. The staff was only 75% African-American. In spite of being a white male, I have become accustomed to being a minority. We won't even go into my political and social leanings here.

Anyway, I have been working in schools where I am a minority for quite some time. One cannot help being affected by the culture they are surrounded by and sometimes I forget who exactly I am. I find myself walking around neighborhoods on the Northside of Chicago, and thinking, "Man there sure are a lot of white people here." Trips to visit Babs's family in Iowa are eye-popping. Not a hint of melanin for hundreds of miles. The cars are washed out too. Everyone drives around in white or gray cars. OK, a lot of them are pickup trucks or minivans. Nevertheless, there is not a hint of color in sight.

To make a short story long, though, I was in a classroom the day after Rod the Mod was convicted in a court of impeachment. We now had a new Governor and I took it upon myself to see just how many of the kids in my class followed the news closely enough to know the facts about this new Governor. I teach social science courses to high school kids. It's my job to keep them posted on major developments, like a black President, or a Governor being impeached, etc., etc., etc.... So anyway, there is a space on my board (It's a white board, not a black board. I use dry erase markers, not chalk.), where I have what is known as a bell-ringer or a Do Now. It's a little short exercise that the kids have to do first thing, while I take attendance, and it gets them engaged and the tardy students don't do it and they don't get points for doing it. The Bell-Ringer for this day was simple, "Who is the Governor of the State of Illinois?"

In 3 classes, one or two kids knew the new Governor's name. They saw it on TV. In one class no one knew that Rod the Mod was out and Pat Quinn was now the new Governor. In one class, no one knew the new Governor's name, but several knew that Rod the Mod was out. The closest anyone came to knowing the correct answer was, "I don't know his name. It's some bald white guy."

For many of my students, this is reality. The people who run things, the bankers, the politicians, the people with power are just, "some bald white guy." I don't think it matters in their minds. They're just all middle-aged bald white guys in suits, one collective power-broker who tells everyone else what to do and makes all the big decisions about government, policy, and business. These kids are unaccustomed to seeing people in power who look like themselves and those around them.

It then becomes my job to put a positive face on the "bald white guy." I'm not bald, but have a receding hairline and a big bald spot on the back of my head. So in the larger sense of the statement I am one of those "bald white guys." I have to make them real and show all of these kids that we actually care and want them to succeed. It is in some larger sense of education my job to put a human face on "bald white guys," just as Barack Obama has to put a caring, human face on African-Americans for white America. We're both trying to be ourselves while working in a job that is overwhelmingly populated by people of another race and trying to serve a population that is overwhelmingly of another race. While it is true that Mr. Obama is President of the U.S. and I am but a teacher for CPS, we both have to, daily, convince people that, "Hey, I look different than you, but really we're not so different."

There are people on both sides of the color barrier that may never get over that barrier, but a great many, faced with the reality of "some bald white guy," with a very human and normal face, manage a few steps in the right direction. We're not all the same any more than all the Javiers and Joses and Jermaines and Jamils are. Let's hope that "bald white guys" as a whole can prove themselves, and someday, no one will see just "some bald white guy" or "some weird-looking black guy" or "some little short Mexican guy" but just "Some Guy."

So, all of you bald white guys out there, it's on you now. Time to let the world know that, "Bald white guys rock."